The last eighteen months or so, has certainly seen a huge rise in public protests in this nation. We’ve seen students and their supporters protesting the massive hike in tuition fees and the scrapping of the EMA. There’s been the public sector’s strike over the attack on their pension agreements and Occupy London with their camp on the very threshold of St Paul’s Cathedral protesting the burgeoning power of the financial institutions and the widening gap between rich and poor in this nation. In the first half of 2011 there was also the protest ‘March for the Alternative’ where around half a million men, women and children marched as one to be a voice to the Con-Dem coalition government in what was the largest union-organised event for 20 years. Ordinary people making their voice heard in extraordinary times.
J. John, in his article asked a very important question: as Christians, should we protest? Well, I did last year, for the first time in my life I attended a public protest. I was one of many ordinary people on the ‘March for the Alternative.’ Central London was brought to a standstill as workers of all kinds: NHS staff, teachers, students, pensioners, postmen and at least one church leader marched peacefully through London to a rally in Hyde Park.
I was faced with a bit of a dilemma, I’d previously booked into the newfrontiers ‘Everything Conference’ scheduled for the same day. Should I attend the Conference, with an opportunity to learn, network, pray and talk about societal change or do I act for change by attending the ‘March for the Alternative’? As I’ve already stated, I decided on the latter. In the spirit of Alfred Salter, Keir Hardie, George Landsbury and others, I wanted to do something to protest and challenge an ideology that dismisses the ordinary working man with arrogant disdain. Although the so called Big Society is a great opportunity for churches to impact their communities further; it is not the answer. To quote Keir Hardie:
Poverty can never be remedied by charity, but only by justice.
I was marching for justice. The social and geographical gap between rich and poor is as wide now as it was in Victorian Britain, and getting wider. Does that matter? I believe it does. It matters a lot. I am passionate to see people become Christians; to experience forgiveness and salvation and find their place in the Kingdom of God and the assurance of a home in heaven but I’m also passionate that as Christians, we should fight for justice and dignity and stand with the people who suffer as a result of injustice. People who are facing unemployment, uncertainty, displacement, homelessness and poverty as a result of the cuts imposed by this government.
As I took part in the ‘March for the Alternative’, I was seeking to be ‘a shining light and a city on the hill’ while at the same time adding my voice to the growing shout for a viable alternative.
Historically, Christians in this nation have been at the forefront of protesting over issues of justice but in recent years they’ve have taken a much more negative approach to public protest. But as J John asked:
Is our reluctance to protest really the outworking of a genuine prayerful godliness; or about a moral laziness and indifference? Apathy masquerading as piety is a poor show. More importantly, our governments actually expect some measure of protest. Increasingly it seems they create and announce policies with little thought and even less consultation and then – fingers crossed – impose them on the public. If they are met with strong objections, then the policies or laws are hastily withdrawn, redrafted and resubmitted. In a culture where only those who shout are heard, any failure to protest may be presumed consent or approval.
Let’s not be guilty of moral laziness, indifference and apathy when we encounter injustice, as J John said in his article: Protests are an opportunity to show that actually we do care for others. Protest can be pro-testimony.